Georgia coach Mark Richt and LSU coach Les Miles. (Associated Press)
Last Modified: Friday, September 27, 2013 6:13 PM
ATHENS, Ga. — LSU visits Georgia for a much-anticipated showdown this afternoon, the kind of game that can define a season, put you in the history books, jump-start a national title run and mostly show off the world’s toughest and baddest conference.
But Southeastern Conference traditionalists might want to avert their eyes from Georgia’s Sanford Stadium.
This could be a tough one.
The league likes to fashion itself as the last holdout against the creeping plague of spread offenses. It considers itself the last bastion of honest, bare-knuckle defense. If so, the SEC might not be putting its official stamp of approval on this afternoon’s activities.
Even with two traditionally tough defensive-minded teams squaring off, that side of the ball might well get swept up in the whirlwind.
“I think it will eventually be a defensive league (again) this year,” said LSU head coach Les Miles.
Then he added, “I see a lot of quarterbacks, a lot of receiving corps, guys that can really throw the football.”
Even Miles’ Tigers, offensively challenged in recent seasons, particularly in the air, have joined the party.
Bottom line: nobody is expecting a traditional ball-control, field-position defensive struggle.
Georgia coach Mark Richt pointed to a previous SEC showdown, Alabama’s 49-42 victory over Texas A&M.
“I don’t know who would have predicted that kind of score with those kinds of teams,” Richt said.
On paper, this one could be similar.
Georgia’s Aaron Murray and LSU’s Zach Mettenberger are the SEC’s top two quarterbacks in pass efficiency.
Murray has thrown for more yards in one less game, but Mettenberger has Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham at his disposal. They’re the SEC’s No. 3 and No. 4 leading receivers.
An unlimited air war?
“It will be interesting to see who can run the ball and who can run it well,” Richt said. “Both teams are very capable of it, but on any give Saturday you don’t know what’s going to happen.
“We like ours and I’m sure they like theirs — and I like theirs and I’m sure they probably like ours.
“It’s going to be fun to watch.”
Mettenberger, who grew up in the Athens area and started his career with the Bulldogs, is getting most of the headlines along with his old running mate, Murray.
But the game also features the SEC’s leading rusher in the Bulldogs’ Todd Gurley (125.7 ypg) and the conference’s reigning offensive player of the week in LSU’s Jeremy Hill (117 ypg), who also leads the SEC in touchdowns with six. He’s fresh off rushing for a career-high 184 yards and three scores against Auburn.
“We’re going to do the things we do,” Miles said. “It’s just that simple. We need to sustain long drives. We want to keep the ball. But we’re also going to take our shots. We’re going to use our balance to our advantage.”
Complicating matters, both LSU and Georgia are rebuilding defenses that were gutted by last year’s NFL draft.
“You keep fighting like mad not to give up big plays,” Richt said of the new order. “You fight like mad to get turnovers. You fight like made to get a big stop, a momentum-changing stop somewhere along the way.
“That’s all we’re trying to do.”
“Maybe there is a little more balance with offense and defense than there’s been in this league,” Miles said. “This has traditionally been a great defensive league. I can’t imagine that it won’t be. But as say that, you know, I’m watching these scores.”